Saturday, November 28, 2009

Prophecy is NOT an Optional Extra!!

I am still very much thinking through the activity of the Holy Spirit - His baptism, His gifts and His awesome manifest Presence in our day to day lives. This of course was prompted by Stanley Jebb's recent two posts promoting the cessationist position. It is very easy to take an "anti" stance and criticise and miss teaching and discussing the genuine and the right. When I was growing up in New Covenant Church in Dunstable, one of the things I despised and hated the most as the church progressively became cessationist was the extremely negative pastor/teachers who were talked about - as they were also anti-charismatic. John MacArthur, Peter Masters and Alan Morrison (three teachers who are agressively anti-charismatic) were the main offenders. I have learned with time that not everything is bad about those men - and have actually enjoyed some email contact with Alan Morrison.

However I do not want to become the "charismatic" version of MacArthur, Masters or Morrison and angrily attack any cessationist who questions whether the Person and gifts of the Holy Spirit should be expected and enjoyed in church today! So over the last 24 hours I have been thinking about Stanley Jebb's statement;

"... expecting prophecy and elevating it above the Word of God and calling silly remarks 'prophecy'".

I couldn't agree more that there is an abundance of "silly" prophecies. I agree that some Christians and churches have been guilty of taking the prophetic more seriously than the Word of God. I have heard a multitude of examples of this in my charismatic experience. But does the existance of the counterfeit mean that the Holy Spirit is not giving genuine prophecies to the church via His prophets? Because of all these thoughts I am spending a lot of time reading Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones. Of course I have a multitude of charismatic teachers and books that I could draw on (such as Terry Virgo, Ern Baxter and so on) - but Dr Ll0yd-Jones could never be accused of being anything but "orthodox" and excessively careful in his teaching.

In his monumental series on Romans - Dr Ll0yd-Jones came to Romans 12:6 ("if prophecy let us prophesy") and spent some considerable time actually preaching on the gift of prophecy. His teaching is probably the most useful and sound teaching I have read on the charismatic gifts - so here are some sections.

Dr Ll0yd-Jones was concerned that the charismatic gifts NEVER became seperated from the baptism of the Holy Spirit (something that the Third Wave teaching - particularly Jeff Purswell and John Wimber - have done wrongly I feel). So the Doctor commenced his series on prophecy by saying;

"I am one of those who believes that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is something distinct and seperate from regeneration, and I am deeply concerned lest that great doctrine should get into disrepute because of muddled, unscriptural teaching with regard to speaking in tongues ... I say again that my position is that I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a seperate, distinct unique experience. It may be accompanied by remarkable gifts; it may simply manifest the "regular" gifts in a heightened degree. It is NOT for us to say that none of these things can happen. Anything is possible in the sovereignity of the Spirit".

I think Dr Ll0yd-Jones concern was right and prophetic. From what I have seen of those former charismatics who have turned to functional cessationism - they have done so because of their distaste for excess and fanaticism not because of a doctrinal conviction. So Lloyd-Jones begins with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and then goes on to address the gifts themselves with a note to cessationists;

"I find it is almost laughable that people should say they do not see any evidence of the gifts today ... One of the greatest danagers it always seems to me is to interpret the Scriptures in the light of our experience instead of testing our experience by the teaching of Scripture".

Our argument cannot be the bad or the counterfeit! Any even basic knowledge of church history will show that the counterfeit will always appear around the genuine! It doesn't mean the genuine isn't around or wrong. It just means the devil is trying to muddy the waters and confuse and put off Christians from the genuine! So then Dr Ll0yd-Jones moved on to define prophecy;

"What is this gift of prophecy? ... Well I would define it as a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. What for? It's purpose is to give a word from God or the word of God to the church ... prophecy is the inspired delivery of warning, exhortation, instruction, judging and making manifest the secrets of the heart".

One tactic that cessationists sometimes adopt is to call prophecy "preaching". I suspect they do this because any honest cessationist struggles to find Scriptures that clearly show that the gifts of the Spirit have stopped. Therefore to call prophecy "preaching" somewhat solves the issue - it is however dishonest to the Word of God. Dr Ll0yd-Jones comments on this distinction;

"What is the difference between prophecy on the one hand and preaching and teaching on the other? Because there is a difference. I would say the difference can be put into one word - immediacy. This means that a word is given to people and comes to them".

Immediacy! Anyone who has experienced the Holy Spirit impart a prophecy knows that it comes "suddenly from heaven". You can be sitting in church and not even particularly feeling "spiritual" or "close to God". But then SUDDENLY a word begins burning in your heart. Some experienced and wise prophets in the church today such as Terry Virgo or Greg Haslam or John Groves will say that they do not even know the entire word when they step up to give it - the Holy Spirit imparts it as they in faith open their mouths.

Whereas of course preaching and teaching are not and should not be immediate. Dr Lloyd-Jones says;

"A preacher and a teacher is a man who takes time to study; he takes time to think, to prepare, he arranges his material and gives it order and system. A preacher and a teacher should not enter into a pulpit without any preparation, and trust to the inspiration of the moment. That is not preaching and teaching, but that is prophecy".

I know some of my preacher/teacher friends such as Pete Day have said that sometimes they have felt led to give "immediate" and inspired sermons with little or no preparation - does Dr Ll0yd-Jones allow for and see this?

"Now a difficulty arises in this way; a preacher and teacher may also be a prophet. I have no doubt at all about all this. I say it again to the glory of God, I think I know just a little about this. I think I know something of what it is to be preaching or teaching and suddenly find myself prophesying".

So it is this word "immediacy" that is key to the whole element of the gift of prophecy. This is (I think) what "cautious" reformed evangelicals don't like about the whole matter. Immediacy means that there may be mistakes. Immediacy means that there cannot be any preparation or proof-reading - whereas sermons can be prepared, proof-read and checked. Immediacy means an element of risk! But if the Holy Spirit is truly in control of His church then what actually IS the risk?!

I love Dr Ll0yd-Jones conclusion. He sees a New Testament church as it should be;

"So I would sum it up like this. The picture we have of the early church is of a body of people who believed the gospel, who were filled with the Holy Spirit and who received the gifts. They were an active body and they actively manifested the gifts. There was order certainly and control, but the great thing was the life that was in all the parts. It had to be controlled because of excesses but the control did not mean that the members were silent, and that only one man or a number of men were doing things. No, no it was a pneumatic church, a pneumatic body with the life of the Spirit showing itself in varying ways in each member so that everyone took part in the life of the church".

My early memories of life in my home church was certainly of having godly leadership - but life was there. You never knew who of the members may speak up and contribute and take part. My later memories before I left the church was of a silent church with only the elders speaking at all during the Sunday service. Control there may have been - but life? I'm not so sure.

As my title of this blog states - prophecy is NOT an optional extra! I have yet to see the promise of 1 Corinthians 14 fulfilled - that unbelievers will come into the gathered congregation and hear "prophesying" and will fall down and confess Christ as Lord. I have now taken two of my then non-Christian friends to the "Together on a Mission" Newfrontiers conference in Brighton deliberately to test this Scripture out. There both heard prophesying, tongues and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Far from being "freaked out" they were both intrigued and one now is a Christian himself. This is the birthright of the lost! To hear the life of the Spirit in the church!


Anonymous said...

These are SECONDARY issues - not worth sacrificing unity over.

Dan Bowen said...

You are saying effective evangelism directed and modelled by the Word of God is secondary? The future of the lost isn't worth debate and discussion over?